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Microsoft's Nemesis -- The Net 23 October 2001 Edition
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The Internet has become the catalyst for a huge number of products, services and businesses since it started to appear on the public's radar during the early to mid 1990s.

While it has been a super-highway paved with gold for many existing and new companies, it has turned into a minefield for the world's biggest software company -- Microsoft.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the Internet might well have become Microsoft's undoing and will ultimately shatter the company's market dominance.

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If my rusty memory serves me well, Bill Gates once told the world that the Net would never amount to much and that *his* network, MSN, would provide the communications services we needed.

IBM once said that the world would only ever need about three computers.

This was the first sign that the Net was to become Microsoft's nemesis and the first of two parallels I'll draw between MS and IBM.

About this time, Microsoft were also forced to do something totally foreign to their corporate nature -- they began to give away software!

Yes, those smart boys at MS figured that they could buy a web browser, tart it up a bit, and give it away. This they thought, would allow them to steal Netscape's market because (if you remember), Navigator wasn't actually free at the time. You could download it and use it, but you were supposed to send of a small sum ($49?) if you weren't a student or something.

Of course this game-plan failed. Early versions of IE made little headway against Netscape's superior product -- and that's why MS decided to fight nasty and was eventually found guilty of monopolistic actions by a US court as a result.

However, perhaps just as damaging to Microsoft at this point was the way that the Net allowed people to pirate and distribute the company's other software products as "warez."

Those who wanted a copy of MS Word or one of the company's games could simply find a warez site or newsgroup and download the stuff -- free of charge. Of course it took forever and was not without problems but it was free and, as we all know, the type of person who does this doesn't have a life so they can afford to spend a week downloading $200 worth of software.

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So MS decided it would get into the corporate Internet/intranet business and started producing software such as IIS, the company's web-server product.

About this time, Microsoft began to learn that it was totally out of its depth in the area of online security.

Let's face it -- when you write software for stand-alone desktop PCs, security consists of locking the door when you leave at night -- but the online world is a totally different place and it requires a far more pro-active approach to protecting data.

Even five years later, Microsoft hasn't quite got its head around the fact that not everyone who you might connect with has benign intentions and its Net-applications continue to be easy targets for crackers and worm/virus writers.

As this little history lesson shows, Microsoft has had a lot of problems with the Net -- and it's now entering what I think could be the most dangerous phase of the company's online activities.

Windows XP looks set to be a less than outstanding success from a commercial perspective. Huge numbers of users appear to be saying "no thanks, our existing setup works satisfactorily" and others are saying "no thanks, too invasive/restrictive/expensive."

Never again will we see the unbridled "must havism" that surrounded the launch of Windows 95. Windows 98, Me and 2000 turned out to be "ho-hum" releases with most sales probably being sold with new computers rather than essential upgrades to existing systems. The new, draconian licensing terms and high price of XP have ensured that it will be the same.

Then there's .Net and the Hailstorm project. These are doomed.

Microsoft has tried to inflate its all-encompassing Internet bubble just a little too far and it's about to burst.

An unacceptably long and shameful history of bad security -- culminating in last week's cracking of the company's much touted and supposedly ultra-secure digital rights management system for audio and video has scared people away from entrusting Microsoft with their valuable data.

The penalties associated with its antitrust conviction are also to be decided shortly -- something else that could throw a spanner in the company's money-making machine.

"Nobody ever gets fired for buying Microsoft" is a term that is bandied about in the IT departments of the world. Step back just 20 years and people were saying the same about IBM -- but then IBM also became arrogant and draconian in its licensing.

In the late 1980s, after setting virtually every standard associated with the highly successful IBM PC machines, IBM decided to get tough and enforce harsh licensing and high prices for its new PS2 machines with their revolutionary Microchannel bus.

Now we have Microsoft trying to ignore standards such as MP3 in favour of its own proprietory (and craced) WMF format. Now we have Microsoft tightening the licensing of its software to an unreasonable level.

That's the second parallel I draw between MS and IBM.

If we ignore history then we are doomed to repeat it.

The time has never been better for someone to bump Microsoft from its throne and I believe that the IT world will be a significantly different place within five years -- with Microsoft no longer enjoying the dominance it has today.

Microsoft is big -- but the Net is still bigger and more powerful.

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Security Alerts
Microsoft tightens software security (CNet - 16/08/2001t)

Code Red Worm A 'Runaway Success' (7amNews - 20/07/2001)

Solaris bug gives hackers free rein (ZDNet - 22/06/2001)

Microsoft Admits Another 'Serious Vunerability' In IIS 7amNews - 19/06/2001)

Virus Alerts
Tripple-threat Worm Strikes (Aardvark - 19/09/2001)

New worm spreading slowly (CNet - 4/09/2001)

Trojan horse breaks Windows PCs (ZDNet - 24/08/2001)

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